After a few days of silence — as thousands reveled in the fact that they hadn't been Raptured on Saturday — Judgment Day-calculator Harold Camping figured out a way to spin his (second!) failed prediction: it actually did happen, you just didn't see it. The 89-year-old Christian radio station owner explained on Monday night, during a Family Radio station broadcast, that rather than a physical Rapture taking place, the judgment was spiritual. But don't worry; the real end of the world is still ahead.
Camping did admit to at least one mistake: that he'd been reading the Bible with a factual mindset, rather than a spiritual one, which is why he'd misinterpreted Saturday's events.
"On May 21, this last weekend, this is where the spiritual aspect of it really comes through," said Camping. "God again brought judgment on the world. We didn't see any difference but God brought Judgment Day to bear upon the whole world. The whole world is under Judgment Day and it will continue right up until Oct. 21, 2011 and by that time the whole world will be destroyed."
It's tough to muster up sympathy for this dude, especially given the reports that his ministry is making money hand over fist, but Rod Dreher is suggesting that what the guy is really doing, albeit rather badly, is responding to a particularly universal need:
To be drunk on Apocalypse is a fearful thing. There is no problem that the Apocalypse -- religious or secular -- cannot solve. I roll my eyes at the crude Armageddonists, whose number I left behind as a teenager, but the radical prospect of rebirth through total catastrophe still tempts me in less culturally embarrassing ways. I read secular prophets with more mainstream credibility -- peak-oil catastrophists, economic Cassandras, and global-warming gloomers -- and that familiar decadent feeling returns: the perverse pleasure in the prospect of catastrophe, because, to paraphrase the poet C.V. Cavafy, the End is a kind of solution.
The world didn't end last weekend, but for the Camping faithful, a world ended. But not for long. The human need for utopia and its shadow side, apocalypse, will not be suppressed. That's one prophecy that's not going to fail because, as John Gray puts it, both are "myths, which answer the human need for meaning."
David Mills answers the mail on that need for me quite tightly and makes me regret (somewhat) my opening line to this post:
Fortunately, the Christian tradition provides a vision of the end of history we can easily commend to our children, and to everyone else, as a wisdom and a hope that cannot be weird and uncool. A man might not believe it, but he would be a fool to think it comical or crazy.
In being directed to reflect on the end of history, we are being directed to reflect on the men and women we ought to be. The orthodox Christian belief in the Lord who will “come again in glory, to judge the living and the dead,” as the Apostles Creed declares, should make us more attentive to the end to which our lives should be directed, and to the inevitability of death and the possibility that it is closer to us than we realize, even if we are still young. (One of my closest friends growing up survived two years battling a vicious cancer, only to die of another, entirely unrelated cancer at 22.)
It should make us live so that we earn the lines we’d like written on our gravestones. It should make us strive to be men and women of virtue. It should drive us closer to the Lord who will make us what we want to be. It should produce in us a greater love for the Lord who (to adapt a prayer from the Mass) we pray will “grant us his peace in this life, save us from final damnation, and count us among those he has chosen.”
That can easily be commended, with no risk that at 6:05 one night you will know you’d been fooled. The world will still try to make such reflections look weird and uncool, but how weird and uncool can it possibly be to be a saint?